Eight-year-old Noah pushed his way toward the rink door as the opening buzzer sounded.
A joy-filled yell coursed through the first group of 105 total children, aged 7 to 14, as they burst onto the ice for the first session of the inaugural Mattias Ekholm Hockey Clinic presented by Delta Dental of Tennessee, a two-and-a-half-hour instructional program at Ford Ice Center.
A chance to learn from Preds players and for a good cause? Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
"I saw this opportunity come up and it was a no-brainer for me," Ekholm said. "I'm so fortunate to be in this spot and to be able to inspire kids and younger people to play hockey... It's just a great opportunity for the kids to come out and have a day like this. The kids seem to enjoy it big time and so am I."
This year marked the first time the clinic was hosted by Ekholm after former Preds winger James Neal led the event the previous two years. Funds from the clinic benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee, an organization which helps makes dreams come true for children with life-threatening illnesses.
"Those kids make a wish and to have this money go toward making it come true, that's just awesome," Ekholm said. "I'm fortunate enough to be in this position to play a game that I love and to give them the opportunity to do something that they care about is amazing… Every hockey player wants to give back and it's a great way to do it."
Ekholm jumped at the opportunity to continue the clinic when the opportunity presented itself due to Neal's departure to the Vegas Golden Knights. The 27-year-old Swede also brought along two countrymen and teammates in Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok, as well as Colton Sissons, to help provide instruction on the ice.
"We just got back in town, so to get the couple Swedes and Sissons too, it's great for them as well," Ekholm said. "They want to be involved and help out and give these kids a great memory to look back on and maybe help them start a hockey career."
Video: Mattias Ekholm hosts charity youth hockey clinic